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Old 09-08-2019, 11:09 PM   #1
New Member
Join Date: Sep 2019
Posts: 4
New to the Skoolie life

Hello Everyone,

My wife and I are looking to purchase and convert a bus within the next 9 month in preparation for our upcoming move after I get out of the Military.

I have always had a more nomadic head on my shoulders and discovered skoolie living about a month ago online.

If anyone has connections around the Eastern, NC area (we are in Jacksonville, NC) we would love advice on the process and where to begin.

I am narrowing down the size bus we think we want, but have no idea truthfully and would love the opportunity to go by a bus yard, auction, or skoolie showing if there are any coming up East of the Mississippi River (We do not mind traveling to learn).

With us really wanting a converted bus no later than the end of May 2020 we are definitely on the hunt to get this rolling. Yet, we want to be very informed on our purchase.

I have watched a few walk throughs, conversions, and day to day life on YouTube. I need to get the actual make, model, brand, engine, transmission, gear set, features, etc nailed down quick so we know exactly what we are looking for. Unfortunately I have zero experience in Diesel engine vehicle owning, but I do our vehicle maintenance on our (2) 4 cylinder cars so I am capable and very willing to learn the way of diesel preventative maintenance and proper care.

-I know to check for rust (particularly under the drivers side) not sure of where to look at except to be sure the frame only has surface rust and no chipping or soft spots due to rust.
-Ensure the tires have life because it supposedly cost around 6k for a new set-
-Verify the bus we purchase has the must have features we want (we aren’t entirely sure what features busses come with so we do not fully know what we want, but are learning what a few have from our list below.

Bus features before conversion:
-Engine outside the front of the cab or in the rear (Need to compare pro/cons of each set up)
-Diesel heater plug/diesel tank heater plug
-A bus with the ability to tow a 2015 Toyota Tacoma size truck and still make it over mountainous terrain without going below 45-50mph on the climb and it not over strain the engine or drive terrain.
-With larger tires hopefully get a top speed of 70-80mph
-A bus with a high top (I am 6’2” and I am thinking even with a high roof we are still going to need to lift the roof a foot or so after putting in the ceiling.(We will know more after further research)

Please feel free to give pointers in the right direction to start understanding and learning about the different kind of busses, where to buy which ones with specific features and size, and how to learn what engines hold up better for cross country traveling while potentially towing a 2015 Toyota Tacoma truck.

Thank you in advance for you help!

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Old 09-08-2019, 11:42 PM   #2
Bus Geek
musigenesis's Avatar
Join Date: Jan 2019
Location: Philadelphia
Posts: 6,986
Year: 2003
Coachwork: International
Chassis: CE 300
Engine: DT466e
Rated Cap: 65C-43A
Originally Posted by A_K777 View Post

-I know to check for rust (particularly under the drivers side) not sure of where to look at except to be sure the frame only has surface rust and no chipping or soft spots due to rust. Maybe if the stop signs and the antenna grommets on that side are leaking.
I have not read anywhere that rust is worse on the driver's side - if anything it's the opposite since the stepwell (where passengers get on) is almost always a location for serious rust.

Other than the stepwell, the wheel wells and the back are common spots for serious rust. You can get inside the wheel wells and poke with a screwdriver to see if goes through anywhere, and the same underneath the bumper in the back. Also check for rivets and screws on the outside where the paint is flaking off and exposing a rusted surface.
Rusty 87 build thread
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Old 09-12-2019, 04:08 PM   #3
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Join Date: Sep 2019
Posts: 4
Thank you so much!
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Old 09-12-2019, 04:28 PM   #4
Bus Crazy
Drew Bru's Avatar
Join Date: May 2016
Location: Grayson County, VA
Posts: 1,426
Year: 1996
Coachwork: Amtran
Chassis: International
Engine: DT466
Rated Cap: 65
It would be a good idea to walk through some skoolies just so you could see what you're getting into. I'm 6'1 and we've got a high headroom bus, with 3/4" covering on the ceiling and insulation and 3/4" plywood under laminate flooring. We've got about 6'4" of space floor-to-ceiling. It's comfortable enough for me....we didn't want to tackle the roof raise and we wanted to keep the original windows. It keeps it more spacious feeling when you have natural sunlight. We looked at a few bus conversions before we started ours and the ones that had skinned over windows were just too cavernous for us.
As far as towing a Tacoma up mountain passes at 45-50? I dunno....we tow a Nissan Xterra (around 5000lbs) behind our 250HP DT466 bus. We can't quite make that kind of speed on mountain passes. Some of them we unhitch before trying to tackle. We did a 10% grade on Teton Pass and even unhitched I think I was going 30 for about 5 miles. It's pretty much just a slow way to travel and it took a while for me to adjust to it....I'm a leadfoot by nature. You might look into a bus with a Cummins 8.3, I think they're usually in the 40 footer buses though?
We put a new set of Hankook tires on for around $2500, Michelins are a bit pricier, I'd assume.
It's a good idea to dig into the research before you buy, some people just buy a bus on a whim and find out that their transmission isn't up to the task of mountain travel or towing.
You can absolutely do this if you're prepared and do proper planning and research! No regrets here.
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Old 09-12-2019, 04:55 PM   #5
Bus Crazy
Join Date: Feb 2019
Location: New Hampshire
Posts: 1,349
Year: 1990
Coachwork: Thomas 4 window w/lift
Chassis: G30~Chevy cutaway
Engine: 5.7/350 Chevy Vortec
Rated Cap: Just me and my "stuff"?
Welcome to the site.
You're doing the right thing in knowing what and where your usage will be.
Some auction websites you might check out to see potential pricing...:

Do further research, and inspect closely any bus you consider buying, carefully. Once you buy it you own it and most if not all bought online are as is as sold, no warranty.
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Old 09-12-2019, 09:27 PM   #6
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Join Date: Sep 2019
Posts: 4
Thank you, Drew Bru, so much for the heads up.

We definitely would enjoy walking through a few before buying to see in person what makes sense for us.

Are there Facebook pages or websites that post when there is a showing skoolie fest / walk throughs allowed?

Also, yes I need to do a bit more research to know fully what engine, transmission, make, and model makes the most sense for our needs. I haven’t found a centralized location of comparing all bus models, engines, transmissions, capabilities of each, etc.

Do you happen to know of a good site or is it a matter of going to manufacture websites and comparing models and then just looking up the capabilities of one transmission/engine vs another?
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Old 09-12-2019, 10:51 PM   #7
Bus Crazy
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Join Date: May 2016
Location: Grayson County, VA
Posts: 1,426
Year: 1996
Coachwork: Amtran
Chassis: International
Engine: DT466
Rated Cap: 65
There's a skoolie facebook page, I'm not on FB though. One recent thread mentioned a skoolie swarm in Georgia and maybe another in Florida in October, so there must be something going on in the southeast.
The way we found out about desirable models and transmissions was mostly reading threads here and looking at peoples build threads and the questions they ask about problems they have. General consensus is to try to avoid the Allison AT545 transmission, but many people have one and it works fine for them. We lurked a long time and just researched on before we were really ready to buy a bus.
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Old 09-12-2019, 10:55 PM   #8
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Join Date: Jul 2019
Location: Johnson City TN
Posts: 441
Year: 2004
Coachwork: IC/AMTRANS RE
Engine: T444E 7.3 w/ MD3060
Rated Cap: 36000lbs / 78pass / 39'
You sound like you won't be happy unless you find a bus with a Cummins 8.3, they are the ideal engine, stay away from the AT545 transmissions you sound like you will trash one real good, Allison AT643s, B300, MD3060 are all good and built much better.

There is a place that I got mine over in Ruckerville VA, they had 70ish buses when I bought mine last year and very decent pricing.
I'd suggest you take some time to read about diesels before even looking to buy, many videos on YT that will show you what to watch out for when buying one, first thing you want to do is get the engine warm and take off the oil fill cap and see how much "blow by" comes out, a little steam looking is fine but if there is real pressure, say enough to knock that cap off if you flip it upside down and put it over the oil fill hole, then you best walk away that engine is worn out, I don't bother looking at anything till I see that part. If it's going puff puff puff with the smoke out of it then you are looking at a money pit just begging to teach you the hard way regardless of the name on it. If there is just a steady SMALL amount of steam looking stuff coming out then it's normal, again check YT about the blow by issue, many of us have made videos to show you what to stay away from.
If they tell you "it's had this or that rebuilt", they are lying unless they have the paperwork period.

I wish I would have found a 8.3 in the config I was looking for but I settled for a 7.3, but atleast slow and steady always finishes the race regardless was the way I looked at it. If your towing and have a full sized bus I'd advise against the 5.9 Cummins, it's great in the light duty 1 ton trucks but it struggles with it's small displacement in a full size bus pulling a load. Turning up the fuel will give more power but kills it's lifespan.

I've too pull a 18' trailer with a E350 van on it, haven't tried any serious hills yet to tell you have slow it is uphill... Total weight is probably 9k for trailer and van, I know the van weighs 5800ish, I built a trailer out of the frame of a motor home so the axle is a dully rear end so it's a bit on the heavy side.

There is lots of info to be had, spend another few months doing your homework and be prepared to pass up the first bus you lay eyes on and shop hard, there are some good deals to be had. Glad I went that route, because if I had bought the first bus I saw I know now I wouldn't be happy with it at all and would be looking to get another.
If you would like to check out my website that has all sort of information especially for the T444E/7.3PSD engines check out I've got helpful downloads and articles as well as a link to my YT for other how to videos mainly on the F series trucks.
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Old 09-17-2019, 07:55 PM   #9
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Join Date: Sep 2019
Posts: 4

Thank you for all the information. We definitely are doing our research on what to look for when buying a diesel, particularly a bus to convert.

The thing is we are trying to have our bus bought, converted, and have moved into it no later than June 2020. I am worried that may be too quick since we are just getting started on research, but we shall see. I do need to better understand diesels, how they differ from gasoline engines, and have a strong grasp on what engine and transmission would work best for us.

I will check out YT videos, and your page as well.

Thanks again.
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